Here’s the first chapter of my grade school anthology book – Middletown Middle. The school with more mysteries than students.
Chapter One – The Nickname Curse
“Coloring? Seriously?” Jeremy, the new fifth-grader, complains as he takes out his crayons. “We stopped coloring in second grade at my old school.”
“Welcome to Middletown Middle,” Jeremy’s tablemate, Ari, responds. “Don’t try to compare other schools with this place.”
Jeremy continues to gripe. “And isn’t this school like a million years old? Why do we need to make up and draw a new mascot for it now?”
“It’s super weird here,” Marty, the third kid at their table, chimes in, his tone laced with an eerie excitement. “The more strange stuff you look for, the more you find.”
“Example?” Jeremy’s curiosity rises.
Ari leans back, ready to spin her tale of the peculiar. “Okay, well sometimes you hear music in the cafeteria because that’s where the old band room was before the fire,” she begins. “And I’ve been in the girls’ bathroom—I’m talking multiple times—when the door opens and a girl walks in and disappears into the stall.”
Jeremy’s eyes widen. “Same girl?”
“Yeah, that’s Bathroom Girl, not to be confused with Roller Skate girl and Lost-and-Found girl,” Marty interjects, a smirk playing on his lips.
“Lost-and-Found Girl? She’s a ghost?” Jeremy’s voice quivers with a hint of fear but mostly fascination.
“She’s a ghost who wears clothes she finds in the lost-and-found,” Marty reveals. “She blends in. Duncan over there had a crush on her when he was in third grade.”
Jeremy wants more. “What else?”
Ari leans closer, “You need more proof? Dracula’s castle over in Transylvania and this school have the exact same layout,” she whispers, her voice carrying the weight of a forbidden secret.
“Plus, the basement level was used for super-secret government experiments,” Marty adds, his voice dropping to a hushed tone.
Jeremy scoffs. “You’re making this up.”
Ari locks eyes with Jeremy. “There’s a book in the library; you can’t take it out, but they’ll let you see it. It has the layout of both buildings; Vlad’s place and this school,” she states matter-of-factly. “And I’ve heard the music. It’s creepy.”
Marty leans back. “My dad says everyone who went to school here is afraid of the dark no matter how old they are. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great school. The people are really nice. Teachers are fine mostly. We just have ghosts, ghouls, giants, aliens, and giant spiders.”
Jeremy falls silent, his thoughts swirling “How’d Lost-and-Found Girl die?” he finally manages to utter.
Ari pauses, her gaze distant as if peering into the abyss to heighten the drama. “It was the mascot curse.”
“The curse is why we’re coloring,” Marty chimes in.
“So then this assignment ain’t so weird,” Jeremy remarks, his mind starting to grasp the eerie truth. “What’s wrong with the current mascot? The lusca? It’s kind of weird to have a half-shark-half-squid as your mascot, but most schools don’t change mascots unless it’s racist or something.”
“Or if it killed your students.”
Jeremy’s eyes widen. “I can only draw tigers, so that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Marty leans in, ready to reveal the history of the cursed mascots. “Let me enlighten you, young Jeremy,” he says, his voice tinged with sinister glee. “The school changes mascots every twenty years to avoid the curse. The curse is simple. If this school keeps its mascot for more than twenty years, it goes sour. The mascot starts hurting people. My dad knows, and so does Ari’s mom. It’s real.”
“I can draw tigers,” Jeremy stammers. “Kansas has no tigers.”
“We do,” she replies. “Zoo’s, and we get them when the circus comes to town.”
“People have ’em in their backyards,” Marty adds. “That’s what my mom said.”
“Tigers can kill people, and they’ll find a way to come to this school,” Ari warns. “You can’t pick something real that can kill.”
“Why can’t we keep the lusca?” Jeremy challenges. “It’s a mythical water beast. I’d like to see it try to attack the school a thousand miles away from the nearest ocean.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Marty whispers. “It’ll happen if you talk about it. We change names because that’s what we do to keep people breathing. Fate and all that.”
Ari asks, “Where are you from anyway? I thought everyone knew about the curse.”
“I’m from Nebraska,” Jeremy answers innocently. “And in Nebraska, they don’t teach the history of this stupid school.”
Marty’s eyes widen, his voice a mere whisper. “Shhhhh. This school listens,” Marty warns. “Back in the forties, Middletown Middle’s mascot was killer bees. Twenty years later, a swarm of killer bees attacked the school; two students and a teacher died, and lots of others were taken to the hospital.”
“The Lost-and-Found Girl?” Jeremy asks, remembering the name.
“Yep. And nobody wanted to be reminded, so they changed their mascot,” Ari points a finger at Jeremy, “to the wildcats, since it’s a classic nickname and something we don’t worry about here, right?”
“Right,” Jeremy answers his mind racing.
“Wrong,” counters Marty. “Twenty years after they changed the name to the wildcats, this guy from the zoo came to show off some animals, including a cougar. It got loose and bit off the janitor’s leg during assembly.”
Jeremy’s disbelief crumbles, “I don’t believe you,” he whispers, his voice barely audible.
“Ask Benjamin,” Ari says, “Or just take the Middletown history class.”
“Okay,” he concedes, his voice quivering. “What was the next mascot?”
Ari continues to draw and color at her desk. Without even looking up, she replies in a hushed tone, “The tornados.”
“Well, that was stupid,” Jeremy mutters.
“Hey, my mom picked that!” Ari counters, her voice filled with a mixture of pride and regret. “But yeah, they were stupid for letting it win.”
“I mean, lots of tornadoes come through this area,” Marty says. “But the twister in 2000 took out all our t-shacks and school buses and dropped a playground slide in the principal’s living room.”
Jeremy’s heart pounds in his chest. “So, that’s how they came up with the lusca?”
Ari nods enthusiastically. “Uh-huh! The school didn’t want anything that could actually hurt us. So, they went for something make-believe—a half-shark, half-giant octopus! Even if it was real, which it totally isn’t, we’re all the way in Kansas, nowhere near the ocean! And we’re still changing it cause of the curse”
Jeremy’s mind spiraled into the depths of the cursed legacy. “So, what are you drawing?”
“Rocks,” Ari holds up her work. “Get it? Middletown Middle Rocks. Like, as in we rock.”
Jeremy shakes his head, and Marty rolls his eyes, adding, “It’ll probably win.”
Their teacher walks over to see how they’re doing, and the three fifth-graders quietly continue their drawings.
The next week, the school assembly fills the gym with excited students. Principal Sosa stands at center court, ready to reveal the new name. The band starts playing the theme from Jaws, adding to the suspense. The enormous sign featuring the hand-painted lusca, which has loomed over the basketball court for almost twenty years, is about to come down. Across from it, a covered sign waits eagerly to be unveiled.
An eighth-grader dashes around, wearing a costume with a shark head and an octopus body. Its long tentacles trail behind, creating an animated spectacle. The students can’t help but mimic its actions, clapping their hands above their heads in unison.
In the midst of the uproar, Ari, Jeremy, and Marty huddle together, discussing the impending revelation. Ari leans in. “What’s your guess?” she asks, her voice filled with excitement.
Jeremy raises his voice to be heard over the rhythmic clapping. “What are the options?” he shouts.
Ari responds, her voice carrying above the noise. “It’s between ‘Rocks’ or ‘Mountaineers’.”
Jeremy chuckles, “Well, since we’re nowhere near any mountains, ‘Mountaineers’ sounds pretty dumb. So, ‘Rocks’ definitely has my vote.”
Ari eagerly shows Jeremy her crossed fingers, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. “I really hope ‘Rocks’ wins. If it does, I’ll get a $50 gift certificate to the Middletown Mall!”
Marty interjects. “But there aren’t any stores left in the mall, remember? Still, I’m rooting for ‘Rocks’ too.”
Principal Sosa approaches the microphone, capturing the attention of the buzzing crowd.
“Are you all ready?” she calls out, her voice resounding through the gym. Excitement fills the air as the students cheer, relieved to have a break from their usual classrooms. Principal Sosa gestures towards the lusca sign and the mascot playfully running behind it. “Today marks the end of our time as the Middletown Middle Luscas. Let’s bid farewell to our beloved friend, shall we?”
The lusca mascot balls its fists near its eyes and makes the fake crying motion. The students wave goodbye, and the lusca drags its tentacles off the court to stand under the sign bearing its image.
Principal Sosa shifts the collective gaze towards the other end of the gymnasium, where a mysterious covered sign awaits its grand unveiling. Grasping the rope that secures the tarp, she addresses the eager crowd.
“May I have a drumroll, please?” Principal Sosa requests, her voice brimming with excitement.
A kid in the band plays a drum roll—not very well.
And the moment arrives, with Principal Sosa’s voice echoing through the electrified gymnasium, “Behold, the new nickname for Middletown Middle… Rocks! We shall now be known as Middletown Middle Rocks!”
A wave of excitement surges through the crowd, their cheers and applause filling the air. The blanket is dramatically yanked away, unveiling the much-anticipated sign. But alas, before the elation can fully blossom, an eruption of chaos ensues.
A deafening explosion shakes the very foundation of the gym. A mysterious object hurtles through the air. With a chilling impact, it crashes into the sacred lusca sign, shattering it into fragments. Flames erupt from the wreckage, casting a sinister glow across the stunned faces of the onlookers.
Sparks dance in the air, carrying with them the unsettling scent of danger. The once-beloved symbol of the lusca now becomes a twisted inferno, its burning remnants raining down upon the gym floor. The celebration has transformed into a scene of pandemonium, as screams of terror mingle with the crackling of the flames.
All of a sudden, screams fill the air as everyone’s attention turns towards the shark-octopus mascot. Gasps escape from the crowd as they witness the costume’s long tentacles engulfed in flames. The fire spreads swiftly, moving from the octopus part to the shark portion of the costume.
In an instant, chaos erupts throughout the gymnasium. People run in every direction, their voices panicking. Smoke fills the air, making it hard to see and adding to the confusion and fear that now dominates the scene.
As the flames consume the shark-octopus mascot, the eighth-grader inside the costume springs into action. Desperate to stop the fire, he swiftly removes his shark mask and frantically runs in circles, attempting to smother the flames. However, his efforts only fuel the inferno, causing it to rage even fiercer.
In a moment of heroism, Benjamin, the janitor with the artificial leg, rushes forward. With a forceful push, he sends the struggling eighth-grader to the ground, protecting him from the engulfing flames. Armed with a fire extinguisher, Benjamin unleashes a torrent of foam-like substance onto the burning lusca, resembling a fluffy cloud of whipped cream.
The slippery gym floor betrays the janitor, causing him to lose his footing and crash to the ground. In a tangled twist of events, Benjamin becomes entwined with the smoldering tentacles, struggling to free himself.
Despite the chaos, Benjamin’s valiant efforts succeed—the fire is finally extinguished. The gymnasium falls into an eerie silence, broken only by the heavy breaths and relieved whispers of those who witnessed the harrowing spectacle.
As the thick smoke slowly fades away, the students cautiously survey the scene, their eyes widening with astonishment. Above them, a gaping hole in the ceiling stares back, big enough to drive a truck through. Down on the floor, the remnants of the lusca sign lay charred and broken, a sad reminder of the intense explosion.
Fearlessly, Principal Sosa approaches the wreckage, her curiosity piqued. And there, amidst the debris, she uncovers a surprising culprit—a meteor, no bigger than a baseball, responsible for the destruction. With a mix of awe and disbelief, she raises the space rock high for all to see.
“Middletown Middle… Rocks,” Ari whispers.
And so, my dear students, that’s why Middletown Middle bid farewell to its mascot. Blame it on the extraordinary meteor that crashed the party! Oh, and by the way, Ari certainly earned a $50 gift certificate for her brilliant idea of the name “Rocks.”
In the end, Middletown Middle serves as a weird reminder of the tremendous power of unexpected events, forever altering the landscape of mascots, dreams, and even the mundane school routine. Well, life’s full of surprises, my young friends!
Continue on to Chapter Two – The Unktomi